Educating the public on early detection

Leon Spamer: Brand manager for the oncology portfolio for pharmaceutical house AstraZeneca

Leon Spamer: Brand manager for the oncology portfolio for pharmaceutical house AstraZeneca

Q: What does a day in the life of a brand manager entail?

A: As a brand manager for oncology, my job is to create awareness among oncologists of AstraZeneca's treatment options for breast, prostrate and lung cancer. Part of this is providing support in terms of marketing material and news about developments in cancer treatments to the sales reps who visit these doctors.

I also make the decisions on placing advertising in medical publications, setting up medical conferences for oncologists and compiling the brand plan for the year ahead.

Apart from communicating with the medical community, it is also my role to increase awareness among the general public about prevention and detection of these cancers.

Q: Why did you decide on this career?

A: I'm essentially a people's person. I studied at the University of Pretoria and obtained my BCom honours degree in Human Resources. After studying I began working at the university in various departments. I ended up working for the Institute of Pathology at the University of Pretoria, managing the department from HR and finance to logistical issues.

Q: How did you get into this career?

A: Working at the university gave me a glimpse into the medical world - a background that later came in handy as a medical sales rep. I joined AstraZeneca, first as a member of the sales teams and then became a brand manager in 2006.

Q: What's challenging about the job?

A: This is a very competitive industry and all the pharmaceutical companies vie for the attention of the medical specialists that we deal with. These people are pressed for time and have high stress levels - we have to navigate around their schedules and communicate with them in ways that add value to their practices. Another challenge involves educating the public about the early detection and prevention of cancer. With lung cancer for example, there are many stigmas involved as people label lung cancer as a smoker's disease and often don't have the same compassion for people with the disease as they might for people with other cancers.

Q: What do you love most about your career?

A: As soon as I walk through the door and I get greeted by the receptionist, I'm alive, awake and feel fortunate and happy to be at work. I know that indirectly, I'm helping patients through the work I do at AstraZeneca. The company is working on more targeted treatments for cancer, especially lung cancer, which could potentially improve the quality of life for patients - it's wonderful to play a small part in this.

Q: What type of person would make a success of this position?

A: A person must be both creative and strategic. Creative, as they need to come up with innovative ideas around the products they're promoting, and they need a strategic, analytical mind to allocate budgets and for planning months ahead.

Q: What subjects do you need to pass in high school to be able to study towards this career?

A: One does not need to choose a specific set of subjects, but since you'll be working with budgets a good grasp of maths will be useful. If you're interested in working in the pharmaceutical industry, a good knowledge of science and biology is a plus.

Q: And at tertiary level?

A: As you can see from my career path, I didn't go the traditional route to get into brand management, but a BCom marketing degree would be advisable.